In a roster toplined by two ’60s icons, the opening frame of the 10th Coachella festival could have been called “Old-Timers Day.” And on this beautifully temperate afternoon, followed by a bracingly cool evening, Paul McCartney and, to a lesser extent, Leonard Cohen showed the mostly youthful crowd (with only a smattering of graybeards) how it’s done.
In an enthusiastic 2½-hour set (including two encores), the 66-year-old McCartney ran through a wide-ranging selection of songs, touching on all aspects of his career, from the Beatles, to Wings, to his most recent solo effort, “Memory Almost Full” and last year’s experimental Fireman album, “Electric Arguments.” While the 33 songs included some of his best-known material, including “Hey Jude,” Get Back,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Let It Be” and “Jet,” it barely scratched the surface; McCartney left more hits unplayed than the rest of the day’s lineup performed.
Fans were treated to McCartney’s rousing version of Big Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush,” the spare blues of “Let Me Roll It” (with a coda of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”) and the loopy singalong “Mrs. Vanderbilt.”
There were also moments of great emotion, dedicating songs to his wife, Linda (“My Love,” which the visibly touched McCartney introduced by noting it was the 11th anniversary of her death. “But she loved the desert and loved music, so it’s all good,” he concluded), and fellow Beatles John Lennon (“Here Today”) and George Harrison (“Something,” played on a ukulele that Harrison gave him).
The overall impression was one of great joy; McCartney relished the chance to strut his stuff in front of a young aud, showing off his chops on guitar and piano as well as bass. And his longtime band, including versatile guitarist Rusty Anderson and the crisp, authoritative drumming of Abe Laboriel Jr., matched him step for step.
The only problem was that it might have gone over the heads of the crowd. It was probably a show best appreciated by those who have followed McCartney’s entire career … which would mean people old enough to be the parents of most of the festival’s demographic. The young crowd were respectful for the lesser-known tunes but reacted enthusiastically to the Beatles material.
Leonard Cohen also gave no quarter to youth. His hourlong set on the Outdoor stage was a well-selected abridgement of the wonderful three-hour show he played at the Nokia Theater last week (and heard on the new “Live in London” package). While there were a fair number of fans in front who watched Cohen with rapt attention, for most of the aud, the set was like a subtitled arthouse film in a multiplex of loud, brash action movies. Cohen’s hushed, poetic apocalyptic ballads had no chance. Listeners would turn up, hear a few tunes, shrug and leave.
As usual for Coachella, the undercard included a number of intriguing perfs. Led by Zach Condon, and including a four-piece horn section, Beirut offered delicate polkas and two-steps that sounded like the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt fronting an Eastern European wedding band. Silversun Pickups, featuring the vocals and guitar of Brian Aubert, provide enjoyably shaggy rock, as long as they steer clear of their tendency to sound like Smashing Pumpkins. The dance music collective N.A.S.A. set the crowd moving with their hemispheric grooves, while Girl Talk packed the cavernous Sahara tent with sample heavy mash-ups.