In interviews prior to Friday’s festival opener, Coachella founder Paul Tollett spoke of his desire to “take off the training wheels” from the eleven-year-old event, following the all-or-nothing leads of competing fests Glastonbury and Bonnaroo by doing away with single-day tickets, providing only passes to the entire three day affair. Fans responded well to the challenge, selling out all 75,000 passes in advance for the first time ever, but it was the festival itself that looked wobbly, with a stellar first day line-up and relatively benign weather marred by truly poor organization.
Whether event planners hadn’t counted on such a large number of attendees arriving all at once or simple miscommunication among staff was to blame, the first day of Coachella was a logistical nightmare. Festgoers endured waits of up to three hours for entrance upon arriving at the venue, with much of the security staff pleading shorthandedness and at times outright ignorance of the festival’s own rules and procedures. There were reports of frustrated punters ransacking a water-delivery truck, directions and information were scarce, and one entrance was lucky to escape without an ugly incident as increasingly claustrophobic and dehydrated ticketholders came dangerously close to storming the gates.
But whatever its administrative failings this time out, Goldenvoice still remains rather unparalleled among American festival promoters in its ability to put together a wildly diverse yet cohesive and satisfying bill, and Friday’s lineup provided an abundance of riches for those lucky enough to make it inside with minimal delays.
Main-stage show closer Jay-Z effortlessly reaffirmed his position as the world’s preeminent hip-hop ambassador, notching his place as Coachells’s first urban music headliner with an enthusiastically-received 90-minute set.
Embarking on acapella runs despite struggling with a few vocal problems, the Brooklyn rapper was unusually gracious as he tackled 2009 bangers like “On to the Next One” alongside such oldies as “Can I Get A…,” and indulged his own rock star aspirations by rapping “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” while his band jammed on U2 ‘s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Joined by R&B high-priestess (and wife) Beyonce for a fireworks-kissed finale, the self-dubbed Jay-Hova threw down a heavy gauntlet for headliners to come.
(Singer Terry Hall fronts the Specials at the Coachella music festival on Friday, April 16. Photo by Olivia Hemaratanatorn)
Earlier in the evening, multigenerational hard-rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures left a thunderous impression of their own, with the twillight desert landscapes forming the perfect backdrop for their highly-virtuosic yet tasteful improvisations.
Indie disco darlings LCD Soundsystem proved an odd fit for the fest’s main stage, as despite their rabble-rousing combination of wry lyrics and head-knocking beats, the band doesn’t put much score on showmanship. Champagne-swilling frontman James Murphy acknowledged as much, referring to his band as the “vegan side dish” on the festival’s bill, with Jay-Z as “the steak” and the Vultures “the chicken.”
Ska legends the Specials were arguably the most anticipated of the day’s three reunions of early-80s British acts (Echo and the Bunnymen and Public Image Ltd. also made appearances), and the greying rudeboys failed to disappoint in the late afternoon. Street Sweeper Social Club, a collaboration between Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and the Coup’s Boots Riley, felt dated and unmemorable, while Passion Pit also failed to catch fire.
On the other stages, Canada’s enigmatic deadmau5 was a huge draw in the Sahara dance tent, with some enterprising festgoers even sporting homemade replicas of the DJ’s signature mouse mask. Grizzly Bear and La Roux drew healthy crowds to the tents, while a rare appearance from Swedish recluse Karin Dreijer Andersson (formerly of the Knife, here playing with new band Fever Ray) provided the primary competition for Jay-Z’s headlining turn. Vampire Weekend showed off their continued growth as a live force on the well-attended second outdoor stage.