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Coachella 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

on April 17, 2017, 5:00pm

Car Seat Headrest


Because of their predominately DIY, lo-fi recordings, Seattle-based outfit Car Seat Headrest (brainchild of frontman Will Toledo) might give the impression that they’d come off a bit sleepy and muted in a live setting. But on Saturday in Mojave, that was only on certain parts, like the cool Velvet Underground-esque vocal lethargy of “Maud Gone,” or the J Mascis-like drone and palm mute build of “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” before each of those erupted into soaring, distortion-filled choruses. And on top of those loud-quiet-loud formats, there were plenty of noisy-as-fuck post-grunge forays like the explosively riffy “Fill in the Blank” and the raucous start-stop of set closer “Beast Monster Thing (Love Isn’t Enough)”, which ended in some experimental pedal fiddling. Based on some spirited sing-alongs that lasted throughout the gig, there were a fair number of folks who wholeheartedly dug the feedback-heavy format, but an almost equal amount of blank looks and less than enthusiastic applause signaled that these indie upstarts might be just slightly too arty and aloof for quite a few Coachellans. –David Brendan Hall
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Francis and the Lights

There is quite a bit going on with Francis and the Lights. A whirlwind of dramatic new wave, singer Francis Farewell Starlite mashes up old-school punk-funk, Faith-era George Michael, classic boy bands like New Edition, and even tosses some ‘50s doo-wop melodies into the mix. But most of all, he dances, feverishly working the stage in a nonstop frenzy. It’s a lot for one man and a DJ to take on, but Francis has heartily accepted the challenge. He also comes with a pedigree, having already worked with the likes of Frank Ocean, Justin Vernon, and Kanye West. At Coachella, he delivered his music with a religious fervor and infectious positivity that far outweighed any perceived corniness. Songs like “May I Have This Dance” and “See Her Out” highlighted the kinetic singer’s high-energy set, though he may have offered up one too many reflective ballads for 6:30 in the afternoon. –Scott T. Sterling
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The Lemon Twigs

Ever since Questlove gave The Lemon Twigs the boost of their career by bringing them on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last fall, the Long Island rock quartet – helmed by brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario and filled out by bassist Megan Zeankowski and keyboardist Danny Ayala – have appeared poised to make a massive splash among contemporary rock acts. Their soaring ‘70s homages (think plenty of ultra-dynamic, Queen-esque ballads) helped them nab the coveted Grulke Prize for US developing act after playing a slew of shows during SXSW. While their Fallon performance of “These Words” portrayed Brian and Michael as impressively professional given their age, then 19 and 17 (now 20 and 18), it was only a taste of their talents. During the early afternoon set in Gobi on Friday, the brothers revealed the extent of their chops by swapping spots mid-set; when Michael became the group’s frontman, he likewise transformed into an unstoppable rock gymnast, pulling off high-kicks well above his head and midair splits while shredding throughout surefire sing-along “As Long as We’re Together”.

Given that their full-length debut, Do Hollywood, is only a few months old, it made sense that only a handful of the folks in their modest-sized audience knew all the words, but influential art rocker Todd Rundgren, one of the band’s “favorite musicians of all time,” gifted them the final stamp of approval by joining the group for a set-closing rendition of his 1972 single “Couldn’t I Just Tell You”. Rundgren attempted to keep up when Michael began shred-flailing toward the tune’s end, but ultimately didn’t catch nearly as much air as younger D’Addario to punctuate final note – it felt like a touching passing of the torch. –David Brendan Hall
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Swet Shop Boys

Hitting the stage at 1:00 p.m., the Swet Shop Boys brought a little star power and a whole lot of cool to the early afternoon of Coachella 2017 Day 2. Featuring Heems (formerly of Das Racist) and Riz MC (AKA actor Riz Ahmed, best known for his work in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and HBO’s The Night Of), the duo strolled onstage to a hero’s welcome, only to discover that neither of their microphones was working. “That was all planned,” Heems joked as they sorted out the technical issues. Shouting out everyone that had to fill out visas to attend Coachella, they kicked into “Shoes Off”, an ode to dealing with TSA on a regular basis. Another set highlight was “Half Moghul Half Mowgli”, which shouts out Tupac Shakur as “a true Paki.” Sprinkling in a taste from the group’s upcoming Record Store Day EP, Sufi La, the show ended with Riz MC delivering a powerfully political a capella solo rap. –Scott T. Sterling
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Bon Iver

Though it was a treat to witness nearly the entirety of Bon Iver’s new album 22, A Million Saturday night on the main stage – Justin Vernon and his expansive band stunned by working through the intricate, entrancing instrumentation of every track save for finale “00000 Million” – that wasn’t the prime reason why his appearance at this Coachella stood out. Rather, they earned their stripes by doing an early-afternoon public soundcheck for a dozen or so lucky fans with Vernon down in the photo pit for part of it (probably due to a late arrival, but still pretty damn cool) and by being the day’s only main stage artist to drive home a fully meaningful message.

“You know, there’s a lot of fucked-up shit going on, and I don’t know what to think about it or what to say about it to you guys,” interjected Vernon before launching into a spellbinding coda of older cuts (“Minnesota, WI”, “Calgary”, “Creature Fear”, and “Beth/Rest”). “But I will say that you have to love everybody, and I mean everybody, unconditionally. Not just those on your side – I’m talking everybody. Take that with you.”

He also briefly plugged his own upcoming fest, Eaux Claires (June 16-17 in Eau Claire, WI), but he ultimately deserves kudos for using this massive platform to spread the sort of positive idealism that could actually make an impact among the predominately young and impressionable Coachellan masses. –David Brendan Hall
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