Another Coachella has come and gone, and this one should prove over time to be another major landmark in the festival’s storied history. Despite Beyoncé’s cancellation and the ever-growing lineup dissent among old timers, the experience of Coachella 2017 proved to be top-notch. In fact, this team of seasoned festival pros couldn’t help but gush throughout the weekend about how it was the best Coachella ever. If you deliberately skipped out this year, then you should be feeling serious FOMO.
For starters, none other than the mighty Radiohead headlined the first night with two hours of feels spread across new gems, old hits and fan-favorite rarities. Singing “bring down the government, they don’t, they don’t speak for us” during “No Surprises” offered its greatest catharsis in the song’s 20 year history. And losing one’s shit during “Idioteque?” Always priceless.
Sunday headliner Kendrick Lamar proved to be the best rapper in the world presently with DAMN. good (sorrynotsorry) cuts from his surprise new album woven with urgent takes on already-classics like “Alright” and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” plus kung fu videos and routines crafting a compelling narrative along the way.
Moody, trippy, hypnotic, sensual, tear-inducing and irresistibly danceable, Warpaint’s third year on the polo fields revealed why they’re the best indie band around. For a far-too-brief 45 minutes, co-frontwomen Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal bewitched the crowd with their impeccable vocal magic and spectral presence through a haze of psychedelic lights and fog. New bangers like “New Song” and “Dre” had the crowd bumping, singing, crying and howling as much as favorites like “Krimson” and “Undertow.”
If one artist truly united Coachella across all demographics and tastes, it was Hans Zimmer. Backed by an impossibly massive ensemble featuring an array of guest vocalists and the inimitable cello star Tina Guo, Zimmer repurposed his classic scores for the unlikeliest of ways: a rock show that both shredded and tugged at the heart strings. After all, regardless of whether we’re millennials, Generation X or those in-betweeners, we were all scarred by Mufasa’s death in “The Lion King.”
Coachella 2017 was definitely the year to arrive early. Local favorites The Paranoyds rocked the hell out of the new Sonora stage, and RecordSafari opened the weekend with a sweet mix of vinyl-only jams that had the main stage grooving despite the cruelly oppressive sun’s glare. Rising star Mitski brought a much-needed grungy vibe to the Gobi with a set of clever, fierce indie rockers.
A last-minute decision to skip Lady Gaga for Nicolas Jaar led to zero regrets. The producer didn’t so much craft a set, but rather conjured an abyssal aural landscape loaded with eerie layers and intense textures and beats. Of all the artists to perform at Coachella, Jaar and Warpaint were the ones that went above and beyond even great set standards and truly transported the audience to another reality.
Long-criticized for abandoning its indie rock roots, Coachella threw attendees one hell of a bone in the form of the Sonora tent. The fully-enclosed, air conditioned tent gave attendees a stellar assortment of punk and Latin rock from Los Angeles, the U.S. and beyond. Except this time, we also got an intimate way to appreciate it. So intimate was the Sonora’s club vibe that there wasn’t even a photo pit. One could even chill on a couch in the back while enthused fans moshed in the front.
The expanded grounds also made the Mojave and Gobi tents almost as out of the way as the Sonora. Due to the increased distance of the tents, the sets inside had a more focused vibe from the crowd. Why? Presumably because now that they’re out of the way, everyone inside made a deliberate effort to be there. Rock may be on the decline among the selfie and headdress set, but now that it can be enjoyed separately and in a way that feels underground, the genre at last feels subversive again.
But really, Coachella is more than a collection of stages and sets by past, present and future favorite artists. It’s about the experience. Just as important as headliners and early-day standouts are factors like discovering a delicious type of food (better than ever this year, for the record) you didn’t even know existed or was possible. Or running into people you know and then hugging and moshing together. Or tripping out to the artwork, which included massive displays and a new air-conditioned acid-trip planetarium. Or even leaving at the end of the night and getting cut off by a car with a bumper sticker that read “PAUL WALKER RIP 1973-2013 DUDE I ALMOST HAD YOU.” Memories like these remain as embedded in the soul as Radiohead airing out a rarity like “Fake Plastic Trees.”
On a personal note, the most magical part of Coachella 2017 came from seeing several people I knew performing. Without hyperbole, I can say that attending my first Coachella back in 2004 had such a profound impact on me that music truly became my life. If it weren’t for Coachella, then I wouldn’t have found my way to Glastonbury. It was that the urge to tell the story of Glastonbury to my stateside festival brethren from an outsider’s perspective that pushed me into music journalism. And seeing acquaintances, homies and a beloved friend slaying onstage at the festival that had such a profound impact on my life made for a Coachella experience like no other.
Words and photos by Frank Mojica