Coachella went out with a bang on Sunday night, capping off the first installment of the fest’s inaugural experiment presenting two identical lineups on consecutive weekends, and if the reprise can equal the energy of the first, the fest’s U.S. rivals will have serious ground to make up. More so than in previous years, the three-day fest was admirably organized and as well structured as a multi-course meal: Friday provided a sampler platter from multiple genres, Saturday offered high-fiber indie acts, and Sunday threw all nutritional balance out the window, serving up one dessert course after another.
When even the early afternoon presented such sights as Le Butcherettes’ lead singer Teresa Suarez hanging upside down from the rafters of the Gobi tent and Seun Kuti leading Egypt 80 through a blistering take on his father Fela’s “Zombie,” it was clear that Coachella had saved its most explosive, crowd-pleasing acts for last. And none pleased a bigger crowd than fest closers Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, who brought a veritable who’s-who from the last two decades of hip-hop along with them.
The full list of unannounced guests who joined the dynamic g-funk duo reads as follows: Eminem, 50 Cent, Wiz Khalifa, Warren G, Kurupt, Kendrick Lamar, Tony Yayo…and Tupac Shakur, with the latter overcoming the substantial handicap of being 15-years-deceased by appearing in the form of a hologram. Indeed, the late rapper’s virtual cameo was the shock of the fest, and though it elicited the requisite applause that any Makaveli (Tupac’s alias) mention draws at rap shows, watching Snoop attempt to nonchalantly trade his “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” verses with a hazily-outlined specter was ghoulish, and became all the more so when the next song happened to feature video of a flatlining ECG reading.
Besides, considering the catalog depth of the actual living humans onstage, it’s unclear why anyone saw the need to resort to such high-tech gimmickry. Dre and Snoop’s contrasting yet effortlessly compatible styles form one of the most enduring tandems in hip-hop, and for the few songs on which they alone shared the spotlight — from 1992’s gloriously sociopathic “Deep Cover” to set-closer “Still D.R.E” and crowd detonator “California Love” — they displayed all the sparks of the old alchemy.
Bringing a sizzling aural assault to the main stage just before the headliners, post-hardcore quintet At the Drive-In betrayed little rustiness in its first show in more than a decade. Though never nailing the seamless interplay of obvious role-models Guy Picciotto and Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, the band’s singers Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Jim Ward were incendiary nonetheless, slamming through “Sleepwalk Capsules” and “One Armed Scissor” with aplomb.
Equally entertaining were Swedish garage rockers the Hives, returning to the fest after a long hiatus. There isn’t much to the group’s music beyond simple, unpretentious punk hooks and melodies, but frontman Pelle Almqvist’s trash-talking, Catskills Mick Jagger routine proved irresistible. It’s unclear how many people had been screaming for this particular band’s return, but they made a thoroughly convincing argument that they deserve to be back.
Coachella had been a key electronic dance destination long before the music’s recent ascendancy to the mainstream, but in previous iterations the genre was still somewhat ghettoized, and crossing the grounds from the main stage to the Sahara dance tent often felt like wandering toward the wrong side of the tracks in an unfamiliar city. This year, DJs were thoroughly integrated into the overall landscape, and at one point on Sunday evening acts performed simultaneously on all five stages, with only one of those stages containing a drum set or a guitar.
Ironically, it was during this period that some traditionalist objections were raised. Midway through its sadly under-attended set, underground rap legends Company Flow were rendered nearly inaudible in one of the tents while French dance punks Justice, laptop-artiste Girl Talk and DJ Calvin Harris thumped insistently from three surrounding sheds. Frontman El-P was clearly miffed, and stopped the music after a spotlight solo from turntable wizard Mr. Len to note: “In case any of you got an uneasy feeling just now, it’s because you just heard what a real DJ sounds like.” Not so long ago, hip-hoppers were the targets of such “real music” put-downs when they ventured into the wider world of rock.
For its part, Justice started strong with a medley of “The Genesis” and “Civilization,” but the energy flagged as de rigueur house beats came to dominate the set. Supergroup Wild Flag experienced a bit of an off-day by its standards, though the chemistry between drummer Janet Weiss and guitarist Carrie Brownstein eventually carried the band through. Dreamy shoe gazers Wild Beasts and Real Estate offered pleasant respite from the heat in the mid-afternoon.