Festival Reviews
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Coachella 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

on April 17, 2017, 5:00pm

Radiohead


It was a rough start for Radiohead, with major technical malfunctions cutting the sound off completely in the middle of three different songs — “Ful Stop”, “15 Step”, and “Let Down”. It was enough that the band was forced to vacate the stage twice for technicians to root out the problem. Once the situation was sorted, Thom Yorke and company casually cruised through a classic Radiohead set. “Everything in Its Right Place”, “There There”, and “Idioteque” all made appearances, closing the main set with an increasingly rare rendition of “Creep”. It was more fan favorites in the encore, including “You and Whose Army?” and “Paranoid Android” before winding up with “Karma Police” well past midnight. Other than the glaring technical difficulties that marred the set’s opening stretch, Radiohead was more than capable of overcoming the show stoppages to deliver a triumphant main stage-closing concert on the opening night of Coachella 2017. –Scott T. Sterling
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Lorde

It’s always special when a major artist gets to launch their next important campaign at Coachella, particularly one as intriguing as Lorde. After amassing a mint of goodwill in the time since her last Coachella appearance (a triumphant and star-making turn on the Outdoor stage in 2014), this year finds her square on the main stage right before Kendrick Lamar and with her pivotal second album, Melodrama, due this summer. She kicked off her show perfectly by playing Kate Bush song “Running Up That Hill” over the PA as the stage lights dimmed. It was an obvious nod to the recent “controversy” over whether or not Coachella had passed on hosting Bush’s first US show ever. Bush’s 1985 classic sounded as vital and fresh as ever, and the serious music nerds in the field appreciated the nod. The actual show got off to a strong start, with Lorde striding onstage and right up to one of the cameramen, filling the massive flanking screens with her face as she sang the opening line of her most recent single, “Green Light”. But instead of launching into the song, she hit center stage to deliver an exhilarating “Tennis Court” before downshifting into her sultry collaboration with Disclosure, “Magnets”.

Lorde’s visual production was inspired, featuring a large rectangular plexiglass box elevated above the stage. Inside, a cast of dancers played out social scenarios while the singer performed “400 Lux” below. She paused to talk about what fans can expect from Melodrama, explaining that it’s about the ups and downs of modern life as a twentysomething, with an emphasis on the range of emotions and experiences that can occur over the course of a night out. It was all a way of introducing a brand-new song, “Homemade Dynamite”. As opposed to “Green Light”, it’s very much in line with what we’ve come to expect from her: a big, stomping beat, minimal melody line, and her own multi-tracked vocals. It’s a solid track, but sounds much like something found on Pure Heroine, which is not necessarily a bad thing at all and could serve as a transitional track between that album and the new one.

Lorde’s set coalesced perfectly with her performance of Pure Heroine standout “Ribs” when she joined the dancers in the elevated box to sing while they cavorted behind her. They all applauded her at the end of the song, with the claps reverberating across the field as they filed out, leaving her alone inside to perform another new song, “Sober”, a tension-filled track about being “King and Queen of the weekend/ Ain’t a pill that could touch our rush/ But what will we do when we’re sober?” As the song ended, Lorde fell backwards out of the box into the waiting arms of her dancers to perform the orchestral “Sober (Interlude)”, a powerful and dramatic set piece from which Melodrama gets its name.

As the show progressed, Lorde’s onstage façade cracked a bit, as she repeatedly asked if there was any threat of her being cut off before she was done. “Someone please just tell me, so I’m not boiling with nerves,” the singer implored. It was a very real and human moment and actually quite endearing. Once she was informed to “keep the talking short,” she visibly relaxed and finished the show as strong as it began. Closing out with “Royals” and the full, exhilarating version of “Green Light” as she ran through the pit to get up close and touch her fans, Lorde’s Coachella main stage debut was a definite success, but we’ll have to wait for Melodrama and the ensuing tour to see what big reveals she really has up her sleeve. –Scott T. Sterling
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Stormzy

There’s a theory that British rappers will never break in America. That it’s ultimately too colloquial for rap fans Stateside to ever fully embrace. It’s a theory that UK grime sensation Stormzy has obviously heard before, as he repeatedly returned to talk about the cultural divide that exists across the Atlantic Ocean throughout his incendiary set, imploring fans to simply ignore them. Hitting the stage dressed all in white, he launched into tracks from his 2017 debut, Gang Signs & Prayer, unleashing hardcore lyricism over stark, minimal tracks including “First Things First” and “Cold”. Marveling at the size of the crowd amassed in front of Coachella’s Outdoor stage at such an early hour, Stormzy switched up the vibe for a more down-tempo mood, with the icy synths of “Velvet” spreading a cool chill across the hot desert afternoon. His smooth remix of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” ignited the crowd, but it was breakout 2015 single “Shut Up” that elicited the biggest crowd response of the day. Maybe grime has a chance over here after all. –Scott T. Sterling
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Sampha

The star of any Sampha show is his voice: warm, pillow-like clouds of pure, heart-wrenching emotion that demand attention. Underneath the thick layers of synthesized melodies and rumbling bass, Sampha is an old-school soul singer. And at his best moments, he’s among the finest doing it today. Backed by a three-piece band, the singer’s onstage presence has improved drastically from past tours. At points, he stepped away from the electronics to stalk the edge of the stage as a confident frontman. The set ventured into tribal beats on tracks like “Kora Sings”, and the band even launched into a full-blown drum circle for “Without”. Culminating in a dynamic run through “Beneath the Tree”, Sampha was easily among the best acts to take the stage on Saturday. –Scott T. Sterling
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The Avalanches

First ever official performance on US soil – that label comes loaded with some hefty expectations. But Australian electronic outfit The Avalanches – officially comprised of multi-instrumentalist-producer-wizard pair Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, but here fleshed out by a quintet that included MCs/vocalists Spank Rock and Eliza Wolfgramm – rose to the occasion and hosted a dance party Friday in the Mojave tent that was almost worth the 16-year wait that commenced with the 2000 release of chart-topping debut album, Since I Left You.

Almost, because of a couple minor factors: For the intro tune (“Because I’m Me”), Spank Rock’s mic was off or malfunctioning, so the show’s initial energy was slightly stifled by the lack of audible lyrics, and the group started 10 minutes late, which wouldn’t be a huge deal at venue show, but the difference between 40 and 50 minutes during a fest slot is significant. No telling if the delay caused them to rush a bit more through their mix, but it was nevertheless disappointing when they omitted the parrot sample turntable scratch sesh at the end of “Frontier Psychiatrist”, arguably the most memorable part of that cut. But the dance party during the heavy, horn-led beat of that smash hit was still epic, and the other gripes are small potatoes given how powerfully they served up their gypsy-punk-funk cover of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton”, the space-klezmer-meets-hip-hop swagger of “Frank Sinatra”, the highlight of new album Wildflower, and euphorically chill set finale “Since I Left You”. Besides, enduring these slight hiccups means they’re likely to work out the kinks and hit a grand slam with this set at Weekend 2. –David Brendan Hall
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